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Reimagining the Future of Higher Education: From STEM to SEAD

Design and art have long been viewed as distinct fields of inquiry from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but the contemporary perspective is that these modernist institutional distinctions are rapidly eroding now more than ever. For more than a decade, new residencies, institutions, collaborations, and projects have pushed the expectations and outcomes of working across both the sciences and the arts. Today, it's almost a given that science, design, engineering, and art are closely linked in product as well as practice.


The Institute played host to SciBarCamp on Wednesday and Thursday. On my personal blog I've posted some thoughts about the event, and what makes for a successful camp.

Scientific databases, tacit knowledge, and the limits of federation

I was at the first day of SciBarCamp today, playing local host / fixer / keeping an eye on the furniture. Sean Mooney (a former professor at Indiana University, now relocated to the West Coast) gave a very interesting talk about current challenges in bioinformatics.

A fair amount of Sean's talk dealt with the technical challenges of creating federated databases, the differing demands of bench scientists and funders-- the former want tools for managing and analyzing data in today's problems, while the latter want to attack Big Questions-- and the issues involved in getting people to share their data. The issues aren't so much philosophical or competitive, but practical: people believe in sharing data, and once they're done with it are generally willing to share so long as it doesn't put a burden on them.

But as Sean was talking about how different labs used different procedures for similar experiments, and how those differences manifested themselves in the ways they produced and consumed data (at least, this is what I took away from his talk-- he might have meant something complete different), a thought came to me. Projects intended to let scientists assume that data can be converted into something like the reagents or instruments labs buy from suppliers-- a commodity that you don't have to think about, you just use. But what if data can't be black-boxed this way?

Molecular sociology: when lab research intersects with health care reform

Yesterday, I blogged about a concept in physiology known as allostatic load, and noted that the term was coined by neuroendocronologist Bruce McEwen.  According to a press release from the Rockefeller University, McEwen likes to describe himself as a "molecular sociologist," because his lab work at the university—on the impact of stress on the brain—has led him to think about how "the social environment that people are in will affect the structure and function of their brains."

India Makes a Major R&D Push

In a major address last week in Bangalore, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh announced a major expansion of funding for science research and infrastructure in India. As the SSTI weekly digest reported, "the country would form a quasi-independent panel modeled on the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote research in science and engineering. The new National Science and Engineering Research Board (NSERB) would make decisions regarding research funding and the creation of research centers around India."

MIT and Harvard Leaders Make Policy Recommendations for the Next US President

Technology Review is running an article today
comprised of three letters to the next US president, suggesting policy
initiatives that they think are needed to address future challenges.

First up is Ernest J. Moniz, Director of The MIT Energy Initiative,
who argues for plans to develop a "portfolio of proven low-carbon
technologies". His specific proposals include:

Timo Hannay on Web 2.0 and science

At a recent conference on Science in the 21st Century, I was lucky to hear's publishing director Timo Hannay talk about Web 2.0 and the future of science. He recently gave a talk at the British Library with the provocative title "Scientific Researchers and Web 2.0: Social Not Working?" The whole piece is worth reading-- it's a good overview of Web 2.0 tools and their uses in science right now-- but he concludes on a somewhat pessimistic note:

I'm optimistic about the potential of the web to greatly improve the productivity – and joy – of doing science. I also think it can help to break down barriers between disciplines, and between science and the rest of society. That's why I've devoted my recent professional life to the pursuit of turning this into a reality.

But I'm less optimistic about the inevitability of this potential being fully realised, at least in anything less than a generational timescale. For every scientist who sees it as self-evident that they should be using these tools, or promoting open information-sharing, there are dozens who just don't see the point. For every publisher or librarian who 'gets it' there are many who don't – at least not fully and not yet.

Changing behaviours and expectations is difficult at the of best times – it is too easy to overlook the hundreds of companies that fail for every one, like Facebook or Google, that changes the landscape. In a conservative establishment like science, it's harder still. In some ways science – as an continual, collaborative, global endeavour – is the ultimate wiki. But this analogy misleads people into assuming that adoption of new tools and approaches by scientists is a foregone conclusion. It's not.

How to Attract US R&D Outsourcing

A recent article in Research Policy landed on my desk today, titled "The Maturation of Global Corporate R&D: Evidence From the Activity of U.S. Foreign Subsidiaries", by Deepak Hegde and Diana Hicks.

This review turned a lot of my assumptions about the globalization of R&D, and how poorly the current debate about offshoring of R&D in the US is based on fact.

New Program Announcement: Science in Place

The global map of science and technology innovation is changing quickly. But it’s not just macroeconomics and demographics that is driving this tectonic shift in how scientific collaboration is organized globally, regionally, in cities and within buildings. Everywhere we turn, new structures are challenging the way research organizations create and apply new knowledge, and where they do it.

Mercosur Announces Science, Technology and Innovation Plan

From SciDev.Net today, we learn that "the presidents of the Mercosur member countries have signed a five-year plan for science, technology and innovation, aiming to add value to regional production. Not many details yet, but with Brazil's rapid advances in aviation manufacturing and biofuel, and Argentina's burgeoning expat fashionability, there are some interesting possible futures for attracting R&D money and talent to the region.

[Spanish full text only]

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